Lots of dogs can do tricks — sit, roll over, speak on command. But Ivy, an Australian shepherd in Charlotte, North Carolina, has them beat, paws down! Ivy is an accomplished dog artist, whose original paintings raise thousands of dollars for charity and spread joy to millions. Here, the story of how Ivy became a canine virtuoso.
How Ivy learned her best tricks
When Lisa Kite’s oldest son moved to Seattle, Washington, 10 years ago, she felt a void in her life. Not only did he leave her an empty nester — he took his Australian shepherd with him. Lisa loved the furry guy and missed him terribly. So, the then 49-year-old retired nurse decided to get an Australian shepherd of her own. Ivy was just 8 weeks old when Lisa welcomed her into her home.
“I have to admit, I initially had a bit of ‘buyer’s remorse,’” Lisa tells Woman’s World. “She did all the puppy things, biting and tearing up the house.” And she would cry, her yelps breaking Lisa’s heart. “I wish I could understand what you want,” Lisa would sigh.
Exasperated, Lisa did some research and discovered Aussies are active working dogs who love to learn. “I realized I needed to keep her busy,” Lisa says. So, she began teaching Ivy to do some tricks. A bright girl, Ivy quickly mastered the standards: how to sit, give a paw and roll over. And she really seemed to enjoy learning. So, Lisa decided to take it up a notch.
(Click through to learn more about using positive reinforcement in dog training)
One weekend, when her son was coming home for a visit, Lisa says, “I thought it would be fun to teach her to get a beer from the fridge to impress him.” Using a clicker and poached chicken as a reward, Lisa taught Ivy to go to the fridge. Then to grab onto the door handle and pull the door open. Then to take the can into her mouth and deliver it.
Her son was in awe, as were friends and other family. They began challenging Lisa to teach Ivy other skills.
By the time she was 2 years old, Ivy could retrieve drinks — soda, water, beer or wine by request — from the fridge, sort socks and put them in the washer, take off Lisa’s jacket, turn lights on and off, put coins in a bank and wipe her own feet when she came into the house.
So when Lisa was asked if she could teach Ivy how to paint, she said, “Ivy, become a dog artist? Why not?”
Ivy the dog artist was a natural born “Pupcasso”
Using her tried-and-true clicker and poached chicken as a reward, Lisa first trained Ivy to hold a dry paintbrush in her mouth. “I wanted to be sure she wouldn’t drop it or swing it around before I put paint on the brush,” Lisa explains.
Once Ivy was comfortable holding the brush, Lisa held up a piece of paper and taught Ivy to touch the paper with the paintbrush. Finally, Lisa set up a canvas on an easel, put paint on the brush and watched in joyful amazement as Ivy trotted over and began moving the brush across the paper. “Good girl,” Lisa exclaimed thrilled with her little dog artist and “jackpotted” her with treats.
After that, always eager to please her mommy, Ivy didn’t need any coaxing. At the sight of the easel, she’d grab her adapted, easy-to-bite brush and get to work.
So she won’t tire of the activity, Lisa holds one painting session a week but Ivy will have five or six paintings in progress at a time, adding one color to each at each session. She finishes each creation with her orange paw print signature.
While Ivy is the creative genius, Lisa selects the colors for each painting. “If I let Ivy choose, every painting would be all blue. It’s her favorite color. She goes right to it whenever I let her pick the paint,” Lisa laughs.
Like any proud mama, Lisa began showing off Ivy’s masterpieces to friends. One friend was so impressed she helped Lisa create an Instagram account to showcase Ivy’s talent (@ivykitetheaussie), posting her artwork and videos of her painting. Lisa had taught Ivy to paint just for fun but to her surprise, people started asking to buy the “pupcasso’s” work.
“I couldn’t keep them all even if I wanted to and I did want to share her talent with others,” Lisa says. “But I also didn’t want to exploit Ivy. So, I decided I would donate the profits.”
Spreading happiness and hope with her paintbrush
Lisa launched a second online account (@availablepaintingsbyivy) listing Ivy’s creations for sale from $50 to $500 and began donating the proceeds, most often to animal welfare societies but also to school art programs, food banks, disaster relief funds and animal and human cancer research.
To her joy, more orders came in than she could keep up with from across the US and Canada, and from as far away as Brazil, England, Switzerland, Germany, France, Portugal, India, Australia and Thailand.
“I am always so moved by people reaching out to tell me how much joy Ivy brings them,” says Lisa. But she was touched beyond words by one young man’s message.
I planned to take my life, he confided in a message. But that day, for some reason, I checked my Instagram. I saw Ivy painting. It got me to thinking maybe I should get a dog to help me.
Lisa immediately replied to him, providing a suicide prevention hotline number and a caring, supportive ear. She was thrilled when he did become a dog owner, finding great joy in training them to do fun things. “Ivy saved his life,” Lisa says, her voice filled with emotion. (Click through to read about the best dog breeds for your emotional health.)
Today, 10-year-old Ivy the dog artist remains an internet sensation, raising thousands of dollars for charity and spreading happiness and hope around the world.
“I recognize what a huge gift Ivy is in my life,” Lisa says. “But I am warmed beyond words to see the happiness and joy she brings to millions of others. Ivy just makes everyone feel special!”
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Diane Nichols is an award-winning newspaper reporter, a published author and a worldwide magazine journalist with hundreds of stories in print. She has been writing inspirational true stories and celebrity pieces for Woman’s World since 2018 and is the published author of two memoirs: Prison of My Own and God Gave Me You, which is currently under contract with Sony Pictures. She welcomes you to visit her website at DianeNichols.com and follow her on Twitter @DNicholsAuthor.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.